GRANDVILLE, MI – The Houston Aces, a charter member of United Women’s Soccer, secured their first league title on the strength of a Julie Gavorski game-winning goal in the 118th minute, to defeat Inferno Rush 1-0 on Sunday evening at Grandville High School.
"It’s been a long road for us and for me, it’s well deserved,” said Houston Aces Head Coach Gui Ferreira. “I give all credit to the girls tonight, it was a great job by them.”
The Aces came close to opening the scoring in the third minute as after earning a free kick just to the right of the box, Gisela Arrieta curled her set piece past the wall and Inferno goalkeeper Kelly O’Brien but was denied by both the crossbar and the post.
The remaining 40 minutes of the half didn’t generate any more chances on goal, however the Aces forced Inferno to stay on their back heels for the majority of the period. But unlike Semifinal Saturday where two matches had a combined output of 11 goals, the first 45 minutes of the Final finished scoreless.
Immediately from the second half re-start, Arrieta generated a quick chance by slicing through the Inferno defense but her effort was a comfortable one for O’Brien to handle. O’Brien was called into action again in the 69th minute as she smothered Tatiana Ariza’s driven effort after a well-worked sequence down the right flank. Her save of the match came in the 75th minute as Allison Murphy stepped into one from 35-yards out but the Inferno goalie came up with a spectacular diving grab. O’Brien ended up with 12 saves on the night, a new season high for her.
The momentum started to turn in the final ten minutes of the contest as Inferno started to push the tempo. Tesa McKibben and Haley Crawford, both of whom were quiet in the attack up until that point, forcing Tara MacDonald into diving stops. But despite the flurry of attack, full time came and the game remained scoreless, forcing the Final to go to extra time.
The first extra time period didn’t deliver any clear cut chances for either team but for the second straight day of the 2018 UWS National Championship, rain cascaded down on the Grandville High School field. The best chance of stoppage time for Inferno came in the 112th minute as Aces substitute goalkeeper Lauren Lovejoy, who came in to begin extra time, tipped over McKibben’s long-range effort to keep the game scoreless.
But with only minutes remaining in the second period of extra time, Tatiana Ariza slid a ball into Gavorski’s path, and the eventual UWS Finals MVP put it past O’Brien to put her side ahead.
“It was a crazy finish,” stated Gavorski afterwards, “but we gave it a lot of grit and we had to keep going. [Ariza] played in a great ball up the middle and all I had to do was place it in the back of the net. I kind of closed my eyes but it went in and it was just a magic moment. You just have to finish your chances and that’s what I did.”
Every UWS National Championship Game has now featured extra time but Gavorski's tally was not the latest goal scored in a UWS postseason match. Back in 2016, Santa Clarita defeated New Jersey Copa FC 2-1 with a 119th minute bicycle kick goal from Julia Hernandez.
“It was a tremendous Championship weekend to cap off our third season,” said UWS Commissioner Joseph Ferrara, Jr. “The level of play and competitiveness continues to rise and that was on full display this weekend.”
Over a thousand fans, many of which heartily battled adverse weather conditions over the two-day Championship, came through the turnstiles at Grandville High School. And for those who couldn’t attend the event, viewership of UWS play was at an all-time high as all three matches during the weekend being shown on MyCujoo, with the viewership numbers totaling over 6,000 views.
2018 ALL-CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM
GK: Tara MacDonald (Houston Aces)
D: Grace Stordy (Calgary Foothills Women’s FC)
D: Meghan Cunnigham (Inferno Rush)
D: Natalia Ariza (Houston Aces)
MF: Paige Hayward (Houston Aces)
MF: Cindy Lay (Grand Rapids FC Women)
MF: Jessica Jones (Calgary Foothills Women’s FC)
MF: Tesa McKibben (Inferno Rush)
F: Morgan Otteson (Grand Rapids FC Women)
F: Haley Crawford (Inferno Rush)
F: Julie Gavorski (Houston Aces)*
* - Championship MVP